Dysphagia is the medical term for difficulty swal- lowing, which can cause malnutrition, dehydra- tion, aspiration, decrease in quality of life and cause aspiration pneumonia. Swallowing is a complex event that involves four phases and the timing and coordination of multiple systems. The four stages include oral preparatory, oral, pharyngeal and esophageal phases. A breakdown in any part of the phases or systems involved such as the brain, cranial nerves, oral or pharyngeal cavity or the esophagus can cause dysphagia.
How do I know if I have Dysphagia?
In most cases, dysphagia is diagnosed alongside a current medical condition. Most commonly stroke, other neurological diseases, respiratory condi- tions and head or neck cancer. Aging adults may also experience difficulty swallowing as a natural aging process.
Signs and symptoms of Dysphagia
- Coughing or choking before, during, or after swallowing
- Difficulty controlling food or saliva in your mouth
- Difficulty chewing
- Throat clearing during eating
- Wet/gurgly voice quality during meals/after swallowing
- Chest or back pain
- Change in breathing patterns
- Reoccurring pneumonia
- Unexplained weight loss
What do I do if I think I have Dysphagia?
Dysphagia is a very individualized condition requiring specialized examination, which only a speech- language pathologist (SLP) can provide — as an SLP has intimate knowledge of the oral and pharyngeal structures required for swallowing. Seek out an SLP for a full evaluation if you think you have a swal- lowing difficulty.